A Couple of Days in the Life of a Bahraini Political Prisoner
by: Zainab Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja
Human rights defender
Published on: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
June 22, 2013. It is around 8:30 p.m. and I sit reading in my cell when I suddenly hear prison guard Aysha shouting at the top of her lungs. Her shouting so loud that the whole prison goes silent.
This prison guard is known for being one of the worst, almost always barking orders and insults at the prisoners. But this time it is worse and she won't stop shouting for no apparent reason other than asking a prisoner, "Why the hell she was on this side of the prison."(Note: while the prison cells are open; prisoners move freely from one side of the prison to the other). My cellmates go check, and they come back and tell me it is Rabab Mohammed who is being shouted at while she stands completely silent.
Rabab is a sweet and very quiet 31-year-old first grade teacher who knows very well the price of speaking up for oneself in this country. She was first arrested in Ramadan when riot police stopped her on the street and started swearing at her using vulgar language; after calling her a "dirty Shia whore." Rabab looked them in the eye and told them they had no right to speak to her that way. This landed her in prison. While in detention a prison guard started taunting her, hurling insults at her and her "disgusting terrorist Iranian people." To which Rabab finally answered that she was an Arab, a proud Bahraini and no terrorist. She then asked the prison guard where she was from. The prison guard, who is one of the newly naturalized, judging by the way she looked and the difficulty she was having to speak a Bahraini accent, replied "Yes I'm "mujanasa" (note: term used for those politically naturalized by Bahrain regime specifically to work for the police & security forces who are responsible for most of the crimes committed against the people of Bahrain) and continued: "And you close your mouth and bow your head because we are the crown on your heads." Responding with "no, you are not" is what became the second case against Rabab and the reason why she is currently in prison.
After the second case, Rabab's lawyer gave her very strict orders: "No matter what they say to you, or how they insult you, swallow your pride and stay quiet. "And that's exactly what she's been doing since she got here a month ago. She has been shouted at, she has been insulted, but she remains quiet and walks away. In fact the guards seem to take extra pleasure in insulting her just waiting for her to respond.
22nd of June. As prison guard Aysha is in a fit of rage, Rabab tries to walk away but the prison guard won't let her. Another prisoner (an older woman) is so scared the prison guard will hit Rabab that she keep asking Rabab to please just apologize. I look out of my cell and see the look on Rabab's face as she raises her head and quietly says "I am sorry" to which the prison guard smirks, waving her away saying "Go! Get lost."
On the 22nd of June at around 9 p.m. I walk out of my cell and go to the sitting area where 3 prison guards, including Aysha sit overseeing more than 60 prisoners. I walk up to Aysha and the following exchange ensues:
"You had no right to shout at Rabab in that way."
I had barely spoken when she starts shouting "and who the hell do you think you are, you think you're everyone's lawyer!? Shut your mouth and go to your cell."
I respond "I'm nobody's lawyer, but when I see something wrong I will not shut my mouth at all and I will tell you exactly what I think. Your prison guard uniform gives you no right to insult and humiliate people."
She shouts "you want to teach me my manners you piece of trash. You're the one who wasn't raised properly, I will make you eat shit if you dare to speak to me."
To which I reply "if your point is to prove you're not ill-mannered then using that language is not the best way, and if you choose to speak like this I will not stoop to that level."
Prison guard Aysha goes into a screaming fit, stands up and as other guards hold her back she starts shivering and hysterically shouting "Go back to your country, you are not Bahraini, you traitors, etc." to which I smile & say nothing.
An hour later the same police start calling prisoners as witnesses, calling only a few prisoners who are the closet to them. They are the prisoners who get the "special treatment" like getting more food, longer phone calls and are dubbed "the human cameras" by the other prisoners because they report everything that happens beyond the hearing and monitoring of the prison administration.
Upon seeing this, a couple of prisoners who are not Bahraini go to the police and say they want to testify. The police asks them, "who insulted who?" A Moroccan woman replies "prison guard Aysha insulted Zainab," to which the police responds "then we don't want your testimony... go." When another prisoner also tries to be a witness, she is told they are out of papers. Political prisoner Siddiqa refuses to leave and insists she wants to write what she saw. They finally let her write; after which they read her testimony out loud in front of her. Prison guard Aysha keeps repeating the insults Siddiqa had written on the paper, laughing. "Yeah so I said those things, what's wrong with that."
June 24. I am called to the prison administration office. First I see the "specialist" Rana who had threatened to slap me at an earlier time when I told another prisoner she shouldn't allow them to interrogate her without her lawyer present. "Al-Westa police are here to speak to you about the new case against you." I half expect it to be the same Al-Westa police who had beaten me six months ago but it's not. A police woman walks in "Zainab you are accused of verbally attacking & assaulting a prison guard. Telling her that she," the police woman looks at her paper and reads, "that she has no manners, that she is trash, and ill-bred, and that she is not a Bahraini. What do you say to these accusations?" I look at the police woman. "Zainab you should talk, this case is probably going to trial and whomever was wronged will get justice," I smile. "I will talk, but I will not sign anything without my lawyer, and I will not go to the public prosecution or attend any trial. Because I know, from experience, that is not a place where those who are wronged get justice."
June 25. I have woken up early, and I'm sitting in my cell. Today I will be sentenced. I'm not sure in which case, and because I'm boycotting the court so I sit here waiting for my sentence. I have a phone call today, my only mode of communication since I have not been allowed family visits for almost four months now. Four months since I saw my 3-year-old, Jude.
I worry my mother or husband might get upset to know there's yet another case against me. But I know what ill tell them: "Don't worry about me if I get new cases. When you really need to worry is if one day I see something wrong, an injustice in front of me, and I sit quiet because I'm worried about myself."
Note: this description of events might be too long only to give a better picture of the situation, although this incident is hardly representative of the much worse human right abuses and violations that are taking place in my country. To add to that, my sentence is almost not worth mentioning compared to my fellow countrymen who suffer under torture, in solitary confinement, and are sentenced to spending decades in prison, many of them just children.